|Summary: Business conditions across the small caps sector have been tough for many, but not all. Some industries remain under intense pressure, yet there are reasons to be positive in others. Today we speak to five small caps experts to get their predictions ahead of the upcoming earnings reporting season, and they also give us their top stock picks.|
|Key take-out: The small caps experts predict that reported sales growth levels will be flat, or lower, in the next round of earnings results due the underlying weakness in economic conditions. Mining services companies will likely stand out, but for all the wrong reasons.|
|Key beneficiaries: General investors. Category: Shares.|
Tomorrow marks the official start of the full-year reporting season and there’s a high wall of worry for small cap investors to scale given the unhealthy mix of economic and political uncertainties that lie on our immediate horizon.
What’s worse is that views on this reporting season vary widely, with a number of experts warning that earnings are likely to miss their mark as companies struggle to hold their own against high costs, volatile commodity prices, big swings in the exchange rate and poor business and consumer confidence.
Feeling nervous yet? I won’t blame you, as the uncertain outlook for the market is likely to persist for most of the first-half of the current financial year.
While it might not bring total comfort, I posed three key questions to a roundtable of leading small cap fund managers in the hope that it will help investors navigate what could turn out to be a treacherous reporting season.
The fund managers are Sandy Grant from WilsonHTM Priority Growth Fund, Jeremy Bendeich from Avoca Investment Management, Ed Prendergast from Pengana Capital, ST Wong from Prime Value Asset Management, and Carlos Gil from Microequities.
Q1: What are you expecting in the August reporting season?
Grant: We expect a fairly subdued reporting season for small companies, but given the relatively high valuation multiples attached to many companies, there is scope for some share price declines despite many companies already giving earnings guidance.
In a similar manner to the share price performance of the past two years, the gap between the good companies with a clearly defined strategy that is being well executed and other companies that have no sustainable competitive advantage is likely to be vast.
Generally speaking, we continue to favour the industrial small companies relative to the small miners with little strategic or cost advantage.
Bendeich: We expect that earnings for cyclical companies will have deteriorated in the last quarter of FY13, as the economy noticeably softened. Small cap stocks that are highly leveraged to this are discretionary retail, and industrial services. Given continuous disclosure requirements, the key risks will be around the FY14 outlook statements.
The RBA will cut interest rates and in 12 months the rate of decline in economic growth should bottom out and Australia will grow, albeit at a slower pace. As a result, we will be watching for quality names that get oversold this reporting season.
In aggregate, FY14 consensus earnings growth looks high given governments have to reduce spending and increase taxes, and consumers will not respond until employment stabilises.
Prendergast: Market forecasts for small caps are potentially too high in sectors such as retail and media where consumer and business confidence has not recovered, hence draining the rate of recovery already baked into forecasts.
Also, companies exposed to business spending are likely to provide poor outlook statements given anecdotal feedback regarding corporate spending.
Wong: The probability of disappointment should be reasonably low, on the back of investors selling down the obvious sectors and ongoing profit downgrade disclosures.
In addition, investor expectations should be somewhat more subdued as the macro backdrop has softened. There may still be room for disappointment from write-downs impacting, say in the junior miners segment.
In addition, the continuing downgrades amongst mining services companies could still throw up negative surprises.
Gil: The recent share price rises in many small cap companies needs to be validated by a rise in earnings, otherwise this could plausibly lead to downward pressure on market prices.
I think industrial businesses not exposed directly or indirectly to resources are also going to have a challenge to deliver strong growth. However, one of the benefits of some selected small companies is they do have the ability to grow irrespective of the prevailing macroeconomic environment.
Q2: What are some of the key things you will be watching out for in the results?
Grant: We are forecasting modest sales growth figures for the last half across most companies given an uncertain political environment and low consumer confidence restricting sales growth. Clearly mining companies, especially the mining service companies, are likely to report sustainably lower revenues for the last six months of the year.
One of the more interesting features of this reporting season will be the attitude of auditors and company directors to asset values. Following the decline in returns from many businesses there will potentially be pressure on some companies to make adjustments to some of the carrying values of some of the assets on their balance sheets. Although these balance sheet adjustments are non-cash items, there will nonetheless be pressure on some of these companies to potentially raise equity to repair their financial position.
Bendeich: Revenue growth will be hard to come by given weak economic conditions. Margins will likely come under pressure in this environment, especially for importers who have had a free kick from a high Australian dollar.
The mining services sector will continue to experience increased margin compression as excess demand flips into excess supply. This will impact revenue growth and margins. In addition, working capital requirements will increase as customers demand better terms.
Prendergast: Mining services is likely to be the source of further disappointment. Notwithstanding the slew of downgrades over the past six to nine months, we still expect further downward adjustment to expectations based on lower revenues and tighter margins.
As witnessed by the sharp correction in Ausenco’s price following its downgrade this week, the market is clearly still adjusting to the worsening environment. Hence arguing that it is already “in the price” is bold.
Wong: I have segmented my analysis to two key segments – stocks that have outperformed year-to-date, asking the question of whether they will continue to do well; and the underperformers – is there value to be found?
Best performers year-to-date include three key sectors: consumer discretionary (including online companies), diversified financial services and junior telco companies. I will be focussing on the companies’ ability to sustain and improve profitability through demand growth and their ability to price against the backdrop of slower economic growth, the employment picture deteriorating and interest rates cuts that have yet to bite in a meaningful way.
On the downside, the worst performers year-to-date squarely include junior mining companies and mining services companies. Mining services clearly continues to be under pressure, and therefore I am looking for managements’ responses to managing the difficult outlook and the state of cash flows and balance sheets.
Gil: In each company we observe a softer set of KPIs (key performance indicators) for management. Generally, earnings quality is always important, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on metrics like operational margins including gross and EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) margins.
Q3: Which small cap stock(s) do you think will surprise on the upside or downside?
Grant: Companies with strong structural growth stories and competitive advantages are likely to post strong revenue gains. Included in this group would be Titan Energy Services (TTN), Silver Chef (SIV), Slater and Gordon (SGH), Drillsearch Energy (DLS) and NEXTDC (NXT).
Fund Managers' Picks
|Stocks that may surprise on upside||FM*||Est FY14 P/E (x)||Total 1-yr rtn (%)||Market Cap ($m)||Industry|
|Titan Energy Services||SG||5.45||364.03||92.57||Oil & Gas Drilling|
|Silver Chef||SG/JB||15.73||144.97||229.81||Trading Companies & Distribution|
|BT Investment Management||SW||15.12||120.60||1,017.85||Asset Management & Custody|
|Henderson Group||SW||12.22||103.51||3,096.87||Asset Management & Custody|
|M2 Telecommunications Group||EP||13.92||97.40||1,083.07||Integrated Telecommunication Services|
|Slater & Gordon||SG||11.83||69.27||629.61||Specialised Consumer Services|
|Amcom Telecommunications||EP||18.07||60.78||446.32||Alternative Carriers|
|Austbrokers Holdings||JB||17.64||57.27||630.92||Insurance Brokers|
|Vocus Communications||14.24||23.13||168.88||Alternative Carriers|
|Drillsearch Energy||SG||7.04||8.53||520.79||Oil & Gas Exploration & Production|
|Stocks that may surprise on downside||FM*||Est FY14 P/E (x)||Total 1-yr rtn (%)||Market Cap ($m)||Industry|
|Specialty Fashion Group||CG||9.68||91.31||173.01||Apparel Retail|
|Gazal Corp||CG||n.a||52.77||147.77||Apparel, Accessories & Luxury|
|Domino's Pizza Enterprises||JB||22.41||31.84||795.98||Restaurants|
|SAI Global||JB||15.00||-10.59||794.92||Research and Consulting Services|
|Noni B||CG||n.a||-11.37||19.90||Apparel Retail|
|APN News & Media||SW||4.10||-43.77||189.86||Publishing|
|*Fund Manager - SG = Sandy Grant, JB = Jeremy Bendeich, EP = Ed Prendergast, SW = ST Wong, CG = Carlos Gil|
Although there have been a number of the mining service companies have indicated that revenue growth has declined sharply in the second half, there may still be some disappointing revenue figures in this area of the market.
Bendeich: Two stocks that may positively surprise are Austbrokers Holdings (AUB) and Silver Chef (SIV). Austbrokers’ recent acquisitions and premium rises may contribute more than expected to FY13/14 numbers.
Silver Chef’s growing customer base, cafes and restaurants make it the fastest growing segment of retail, and their Go Getta product is gaining traction which could lead to another positive FY14 year.
On the other hand, Domino’s Pizza Enterprises (DMP), trading on a high price-earnings (P/E) multiple, is vulnerable to further weakening in economic activity in both France and even in Australia – as McDonald’s recent trading update suggested.
SAI Global (SAI) may experience continued organic revenue growth pressure, and with no recent acquisitions, FY14 growth of 10% in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) could be stretched.
Prendergast: My tips for positive surprises are M2 Telecommunications Group (MTU) and Amcom Telecommunications (AMM).
M2 is positioned to show solid earnings growth driven by the benefits of the Primus and Dodo acquisitions, plus a resumption of organic growth in its core SME operations. The defensive nature of its revenue streams insulates it somewhat from economic volatility.
Amcom is expected to continue its 20% earnings growth rate driven by further expansion in its fibre network in the Western Australia market. The move into cloud-based services provides a faster growing adjunct to its traditional offering.
Wong: In terms of small cap companies that could surprise, the diversified financials might be a possible area that could surprise positively. Companies such as BT Investment Management (BTT) and Henderson Group (HGG) could post better margins and increase dividend payouts.
Consumer discretionary companies that have been bid up on account of interest rates making an impact on consumer spending may warrant some caution. The top-line growth outlook may be anaemic, whilst margins could be weaker than expected. Examples include OrotonGroup (ORL), APN News and Media (APN) and Pacific Brands (PBG).
Gil: We expect Vocus Communications (VOC) to deliver strong organic growth. If you look across the telco sector, including large companies like Telstra (TLS), M2 Telecommunications (MTU) and iiNet (IIN), the sector lacks true underlying organic growth and most of the growth from the larger players is acquisitive-based growth.
Vocus is an exception. We expect the business to continue to deliver fast organic growth, particularly in its fibre optic services business.
In terms of downside risks potential, we are not seeing any evidence of any marked improvement in Australian retailing conditions. So, for retailers, we would be wary of any short-term expectations to the contrary. Therefore, our expectations for companies like Noni B (NBL), Specialty Fashion Group (SFH) and Gazal Corporation (GZL) are tamed.
|Small cap stocks covered by the Uncapped team|
|Code||Name||Rationale||Market cap ($m)||Total return 1-year (%)||Sector (GICS)|
|MTU||M2 Telecommunications Group||Amazing growth story and well run company. High free float and strong insto support.||1,112||101.35||Financials|
|NHF||NIB Holdings /Australia||Only listed health insurer. Widely held. Good performer.||992||51.69||Information Technology|
|BRG||Breville Group||Well covered but good candidate for core holding due to good track record.||971||63.62||Industrials|
|ARP||ARB Corp||Well covered but good candidate for core holding due to quality management.||965||43.22||Industrials|
|MRM||Mermaid Marine Australia||Its strategically located facility on WA coast gives it a key advantage over competition in servicing Gorgon & Pluto projects.||900||54.41||Health Care|
|GEM||G8 Education||Only listed childcare operator. Acquisition strategy paying off with stock delivering solid gains.||731||193.81||Information Technology|
|AAD||Ardent Leisure Group||Widely held stock. Earnings more defensive than anticipated. Good yield. Potential core holding.||698||43.97||Telecommunication Services|
|SRX||Sirtex Medical||A shining star in the biotech space and one of the best performing stocks in 2012. Great product (liver cancer treatment) and bright outlook.||694||96.94||Industrials|
|SGN||STW Communications Group||One of few companies able to benefit from online shift. Widely held and good insto support.||658||86.91||Materials|
|AUB||Austbrokers Holdings||The insurance broker is a strong performer. Widely held and well liked by small cap investors.||640||56.39||Consumer Discretionary|
|MMS||McMillan Shakespeare||One of the best performers since the GFC, but change to FBT rules is threatening growth.||612||-28.19||Consumer Discretionary|
|BDR||Beadell Resources||Will be a very big FY14 for miner as it has to prove it aims to produce 200,000 ounces of gold a year.||589||14.12||Materials|
|ACR||Acrux||One of the most successful Australian biotechs in recent history. Widely held by instos.||563||-8.81||Financials|
|RFG||Retail Food Group||Owns a number of well know franchise brands. Widely followed by instos.||543||69.68||Industrials|
|CCV||Cash Converters International||Strong performance is attracting investors. It's Australia's only listed pawn shop and pay day lender.||494||68.11||Industrials|
|SEA||Sundance Energy Australia||Analysts have a favorable take on the oil & gas explorer, but stock is still under radar of most. Sundance provides exposure to prospective Eagle Ford shale.||482||148.21||Health Care|
|NXT||NEXTDC||The cloud computing company is an IT sector darling. Fairly widely held and followed.||477||34.5||Industrials|
|BRU||Buru Energy||Substantial size but not often covered by press. Widely held with good insto support.||473||-49.41||Information Technology|
|AMM||Amcom Telecommunications||Well covered junior telco but good candidate for core holding.||456||64.3||Industrials|
|CCP||Credit Corp Group||Strong price run attracted good investor interest. Leveraged to any rise in loan defaults. Not well covered by press.||434||52.02||Financials|
|SLX||Silex Systems||Its uranium enrichment technology could become one of Australia's best innovations given its potential to change the nuclear power industry.||431||-34.46||Consumer Staples|
|TOX||Tox Free Solutions||Widely held stock in the waste solutions business. Its unique because it operates in a defensive-growth niche.||428||31.13||Industrials|
|BGA||Bega Cheese||Corporate interest in Australian food companies makes the cheese maker worth following.||421||89.74||Health Care|
|HZN||Horizon Oil||One of better regarded small energy stocks that doesn't receive much media attention.||420||34.55||Information Technology|
|CWP||Cedar Woods Properties||Property developer with good ROE and earnings growth track record.||415||61.99||Consumer Discretionary|
|MYS||MyState||Well regarded and could make good alternative to bank stocks. Has good yield and earnings growth over past few years.||397||47.78||Energy|
|FGE||Forge Group||One of the better performers in its industry. Good track record and potential core holding.||382||6.52||Consumer Discretionary|
|UXC||UXC||Company has turned corner and enjoyed re-rating. What's next?||348||84.32||Energy|
|RKN||Reckon||Fierce competition for cloud base accounting software puts it in firing line.||320||20.43||Telecommunication Services|
|MYX||Mayne Pharma Group||Sizeable generic drug maker with interesting board members.||318||101.79||Industrials|
|TGA||Thorn Group||One of few retail stocks that is performing well. The Radio Rentals chain owner is also well supported by instos.||316||39.72||Financials|
|RCR||RCR Tomlinson||Good first half FY13 result and outlook, but will its fortunes change this year with the mining capex slowdown?||314||47.21||Energy|
|UNS||Unilife Corp||The developer of one-use prefilled syringes is close to an inflection point as the market is expecting the company to announce a major contract with a pharmaceutical giant in the coming weeks.||309||1.89||Health Care|
|MOC||Mortgage Choice||Has a good track record and is leveraged to any housing recovery. The stock is also liquid with good insto support.||295||78.05||Consumer Discretionary|
|NWH||NRW Holdings||One of the better regarded mining & civil contractors with good track record in delivering on projects.||276||-62.67||Financials|
|SPL||Starpharma Holdings||Noteworthy for its good pipeline of innovations. Well run, widely followed.||271||-34.81||Financials|
|RIC||Ridley Corp||High corporate interest in the sector and the shrinking pool of agri listed stocks make Ridley worth following.||265||-5.9||Consumer Discretionary|
|AEU||Australian Education Trust||Well performing childcare centre property owner. Good yield story and outlook.||259||51.76||Health Care|
|GID||GI Dynamics Inc||Largely forgotten by investors but could attract attention this year as it looks to gain US approval to use its intestinal shealth on diabetics.||258||-22.11||Consumer Discretionary|
|MXI||MaxiTRANS Industries||Transport equipment maker posted good interim result. Has appealing yield and growth.||236||105.82||Information Technology|
|AJA||Astro Japan Property Group||Strong leverage to Japanese economy makes this an interesting stock to watch.||233||30.96||Telecommunication Services|
|SIV||Silver Chef||Strong jump in the share price of the equipment financing group has attracted a good following.||231||143.38||Consumer Staples|
|IMF||IMF Australia||Litigation funder is unique stock. Stock not liquid but its outlook appears promising given the number of potential class action lawsuits.||227||29.34||Consumer Discretionary|
|CLH||Collection House||In similar space as Credit Corp. Strong stock performance has attracted a following and the stock appears to be well placed to run further||219||144.36||Financials|
|GXL||Greencross||Acquisitive vetinary group. Good profit growth and share price performance, but gets little press.||212||143.52||Energy|
|SHV||Select Harvests||Noteworthy for turbulent past and exposure to soft commodity market.||210||192.16||Telecommunication Services|
|BNO||Bionomics||One of the larger cancer treatment developers in this market.||206||101.18||Materials|
|DWS||DWS||Will be a big beneficiary if governments start spending on IT again.||203||6.69||Industrials|
|NAN||Nanosonics||A successful medical tech story. Should be close to turning in maiden profit with its disinfection device.||196||47.06||Consumer Discretionary|
|NWT||Newsat||Potential large cap if it can launch its own satellite in 2015.||194||-28.71||Health Care|
|IPP||iProperty Group||Worth watching as it is trying to be the REA Group of Asia.||190||12.9||Health Care|
|PFL||Patties Foods||Illiquid stock but has suite of well recognised consumer brands. Defensive yield.||188||-11.45||Information Technology|
|WBB||Wide Bay Australia||The building society is trying to turn its fortunes around. Also worth watching for its exposure to Queensland housing market, particularly around major resource projects.||187||-20.43||Materials|
|DTL||Data#3||Well respected IT company that receives little press coverage.||185||7.62||Consumer Discretionary|
|GXY||Galaxy Resources||Good upside potential if it can get its problem-prone Jiangsu plant back on track. Won't be easy to right this ship.||177||n.a||Consumer Staples|
|SFH||Specialty Fashion Group||In early stages of turnaround. Can the women's apparel retailer sustain the momentum?||172||82.63||Industrials|
|VOC||Vocus Communications||Telecom stocks are in favour but Vocus is one of the least covered||171||25.21||Consumer Discretionary|
|IFM||Infomedia||Interesting tech play in the car parts market. Strong share price gain but gets little air play.||170||191.75||Industrials|
|IMD||Imdex||Drilling company is well supported by instos and should benefit from any rebound in exploration activity.||163||-48.72||Materials|
|CKF||Collins Foods||One of the few food franchise listed companies.||163||59.45||Information Technology|
|MLB||Melbourne IT||A perennial underperformer could be interesting turnaround story as management is in midst of restructuring the business.||156||28.96||Information Technology|
|HSN||Hansen Technologies||Operates in a high potential/growth industry but is not covered by press or brokers.||151||6.61||Materials|
|RCG||RCG Corp||The footwear retailer is one of the best performing consumer stocks as online competition is not a big threat. Company has a good yield as well.||145||67.74||Health Care|
|TFC||TFS Corp||The sandalwood products company offers exposure to both the agri and cosmetics industry. It will start commercial harvest this year.||134||14.29||Telecommunication Services|
|TGS||Tiger Resources||Future lies in its Kipoi copper mine expansion in the Congo but miner is fully funded with DRC govt holding 40% stake in tenement. Next 12mths will be interesting.||132||-32.76||Information Technology|
|UBI||Universal Biosensors Inc||Well regarded biotech and one of few that's successfully manufacturing in Australia. Struck deal with a few global medical companies.||131||25||Financials|
|MCP||McPherson's||The personal care and household products supplier had been relatively insulated from volatile discretionary spend and online threat, but its latest profit warning shows it's not immune.||131||-8.29||Materials|
|REX||Regional Express Holdings||Well run airline that is overshadowed by Virgin and Qantas.||128||6.28||Health Care|
|AZZ||Antares Energy||Liquid with good insto support. Already in production with exploration upside in Texas.||120||11.9||Health Care|
|ACL||Alchemia /Australia||One of the few biotechs with revenue stream. Good pipeline of oncology treatments.||117||-27.27||Information Technology|
|POH||Phosphagenics||Sizable biotech with a game changing FY14 year ahead. Good insto following but questions of poor audit and governance standard could dog company.||112||-21.43||Industrials|
|AMA||AMA Group||Good turnaround story but under the automotive services group is radar of most.||108||132.07||Materials|
|NEA||Nearmap||A stellar performer with an Interesting business that offers high quality ariel maps to companies & government.||107||842.86||Health Care|
|LCM||LogiCamms||Strong price performance and reasonable valuation attracting interest.||105||48.47||Health Care|
|ESV||Eservglobal||Mobile money transfer company that has been gaining traction. Widely held by instos but low press coverage||103||118.42||Information Technology|
|BGL||BigAir Group||The wireless microcap has gained strong following over past year or two but is often overlooked by investors and the press.||96||55.36||Consumer Staples|
|SAR||Saracen Mineral Holdings||Emerging gold producer that is widely held by instos. Hitting milestones and looks cheap. Key asset is close to gold majors, which makes it a potential takeover target.||95||-66.67||Industrials|
|DRM||Doray Minerals||Widely held by instos. One of the more favored gold explorers by brokers.||91||-14.34||Consumer Discretionary|
|JIN||Jumbo Interactive||Innovative small cap facing off industry dominated by giants. Worth watching to see if it can carve out a profitable global business.||89||78.76||Consumer Staples|
|CLV||Clover Corp||One of the star performers in 2012. Operates in growing but relatively stable niche.||89||40.58||Health Care|
|PEN||Peninsula Energy||Widely held by instos and large free float. It's the only uranium miner on the list.||83||-6.67||Consumer Discretionary|
|AOH||Altona Mining||Noteworthy copper play with Xstrata pullout of Roseby project in Australia and the good ramp up of its Finnish project.||74||-48.15||Information Technology|
|CUV||Clinuvel Pharmaceuticals||Interesting skin disorder treatment developer that has done reasonably well over past year||73||14.46||Telecommunication Services|
|RUL||RungePincockMinarco||IT company to resource industry. Facing tough operating climate with new CEO trying to restructure and turnaround company.||72||48.41||Materials|
|WDS||WDS||Widely held with strong insto support. Engineering contractor diversified across mining, energy and infrastructure.||65||-0.95||Materials|
|TAN||Tandou||The only direct equity exposure to cotton prices. Also trades water rights and receives little press.||64||23.52||Health Care|
|CAA||Capral||An aluminium manufacturer that is actually holding up relatively well given that manufacturing is on the nose.||63||6.67||Industrials|
|CKL||Colorpak||The small cap packaging company has grown via acquisitions over past few years.||62||52.82||Financials|
|BOL||Boom Logistics||Crane hire group is riding out the downturn in construction. It's widely held by instos and is very liquid.||61||-48||Industrials|
|TSM||ThinkSmart||Potential turnaround story worth keeping eye on.||56||81.58||Information Technology|
|LGD||Legend Corp||Electronic parts supplier to utilities and other industries. Stable earnings with good yield. Often overlooked.||54||-18.25||Materials|
|KOV||Korvest||The construction products and services supplier has been hit by project delays and deferrals. But its relatively high yield could give it some support.||53||18.26||Information Technology|
|UML||Unity Mining||Growing Tassie gold producer with high free float. Valuation looks compelling too.||51||-30.48||Materials|
|YTC||YTC Resources||Next 12-mths will be eventful after YTC secured funding for its projects from Glencore.||47||-5.26||Consumer Discretionary|
|ISS||ISS Group||Good turnaround story from 2012 but the resource industry software developer under the radar of most. ISS has received a takeover offer after its inclusion in the Uncapped 100.||44||85.11||Consumer Discretionary|
|OTH||Onthehouse Holdings||Alternative small cap to online property leader REA Group. It is trying to use more timely housing data as a compeitive edge against REA.||41||14.64||Materials|
|NTC||NetComm Wireless||Under appreciated small IT hardware maker that is punching above its weight. Hardly covered by press.||33||121.74||Materials|
|EBT||eBet||Potential alternative to star performer Ainsworth Tech. Has exclusive deal with US poker machine maker WMS.||27||148.61||Health Care|
|MBO||Mobilarm||Unique product that could change global maritime safety practices with its man-overboard location beacon.||18||185.71||Consumer Discretionary|
|PGC||Paragon Care||Emerging hospital equipment supplier that has been ignored by market.||15||75||Information Technology|
|Source: Eureka Report, Bloomberg|